Law Offices of Diamond Litty, 19th Judicial Circuit Public Defender, Stuart, FL
This summer I interned at the Martin County office of Florida’s 19th Circuit Public Defender. I worked directly under the office’s only misdemeanor attorney, which gave me the chance to handle every misdemeanor case in Martin County for three months. I saw firsthand America’s criminal justice system. In attending jail visits, court hearings, trials and client meetings, I saw just how pressed the system is to process who the law calls criminals. The court system is ultimately designed to close cases as efficiently as possible. That translates to a system where the defendant has little say. Among the 300-1,000 cases my supervisor handles in a year, less than a dozen go to trial. The other 97% are closed via plea deals, giving most individuals little defense in how they can move forward from their wrongdoing.
That reality poses a great question for me: how can we best treat those that are the least well off? Seeing people jailed for eight months for spitting on someone or homeless persons paying hundreds of dollars in court costs for stealing T-shirts and underwear changed the way I think about some people who break the law. To move these people out of their unstable lives and into a desolate holding cell does not seem the right solution to me. It’s easy to hope they won’t break the law again after incarceration, but unless we really do something to lift them out of their current situation, I believe that hope has little value. I understand that this perspective is bleak, but this experience has shown me just how insensitive the system can be.
This experience took me miles in both my professional path and my journey into the real world. Appearing in court each day and working on serious murder cases made me face some harsh realities. The cases did not discourage me. What I saw were opportunities for our country to improve. What I learned was how to hold myself up amidst it all. Leaving this internship, I am more confident in my character. I am more informed about the troubles in our country. I am more determined and more ferocious in my drive to fix them.
I would like to thank the Estate of George Mead, as well as the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for all the support given to me. Without their generosity I wouldn’t have had the chance to dedicate so much time to exploring the criminal justice system. I cannot thank them enough.